Organizers of Russian art exhibition charged with inciting hatred

Two Russian men could face up to five years’ imprisonment for inciting hatred or enmity and denigration of human dignity after they organized a contemporary art exhibition in Moscow.

Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev staged the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in March 2007.

The Moscow City court on Monday will consider both men’s appeals against the charges. The defendants will be told whether the hearing into their case will go ahead or whether it will be sent back to the prosecutor’s office for further investigation. The appeal will also consider whether the prosecutor’s office should address procedural violations. All previous appeals by the defence team have been rejected by the court.

When the charges were brought in May 2008, Yuri Samodurov was director of the Sakharov Centre and Andrei Yerofeev was head of the Department for Contemporary Art at the State Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow and curator of the exhibition.

The exhibition gathered together a number of works of art that had been refused inclusion at various exhibitions in 2006. Several of the pieces had already been shown at other exhibitions of contemporary art in Russia and across the world. These included work by some of Russia’s most well-known contemporary artists such as Ilya Kabakov, Aleksandr Kosolapov, the group Blue Noses, Aleksandr Savko and Mikhail Roginskii.

The works exhibited ranged from those created during Soviet times to those from the 21st century. Several of them used religious motifs such as icons or paintings depicting religious scenes. Others used non-normative language.

When the Taganskii District Prosecutor brought charges against both men, he said that the exhibition was “clearly directed towards expressing in a demonstrative and visible way a degrading and insulting attitude towards the Christian religion in general and especially towards the Orthodox faith.”

Yurii Samodurov said that “the modern world cannot exist without modern art. And the language of modern art is as important as the language of the daily news. For me, these are the two equal languages of culture: the language of the daily news for the protection of rights and freedoms, and the language of modern art for protection of the spiritual freedom of a human being.”

Russia is a secular state where, under current law, everyone is guaranteed freedom of religious or atheist activity and where everyone can freely choose, have or disseminate religious or atheist views.

International human rights law does not permit, still less require, freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that some people find the views expressed offensive. Nor does it permit restrictions of the expression of opinions or beliefs which stray from the religious beliefs of the majority of the population or the State-prescribed religion.

Amnesty International has called on the Russian authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and to stop the criminal prosecution of Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev.